Out of place: the extent of unhealthy food items in prime locations in supermarkets

Out of place: the extent of unhealthy food items in prime locations in supermarkets

New analysis published today by the Obesity Health Alliance reveals that families are bombarded by promotions for sugary food and drinks placed in convenient or busy locations in shops.

The Obesity Health Alliance (hereafter OHA) visited five supermarkets over the summer, including Aldi, Asda, Morrisons, Sainsburys and Tesco, to survey the types of food and drinks products that are promoted in prominent locations in-store. As one of the +40 strong members of the alliance, Food Active were pleased to support the OHA in collecting data in one of the supermarkets locally.

The findings demonstrate a promotional bias towards less healthy food and drink types in high profile locations in the store, including the checkout area, end of aisles, free standing display units and shop entrances.

What did the survey find?

  • Overall, a worrying 70% of all food and drink products placed in prominent locations were products that contribute significantly to children’s sugar and calorie intake, i.e. food and drinks included in either of PHE’s sugar or calorie reduction programmes or eligible for the soft drinks industry levy.
  • 43% of all food and drink products located in prominent areas were for sugary foods or drinks – products included in Public Health England’s sugar reduction programme owing to their significant contribution to children’s sugar consumption or drinks subject to the soft drinks industry levy.
  • Three out of the five supermarkets sold sugary food and drinks in the checkout area – the worst offender by over a quarter was Asda, whereby 73% of food and drinks at the checkout were sugary foods.
  • Free standing display units were particularly common in promoting sugary foods – 79% of all food and drink recorded in free standing display units were sugary drinks.
  • Less than 1% of food and drink products located in high profile areas were fruit or vegetables.

Why is the location of less healthy food and drinks in supermarkets an issue?

We know that the visibility of products in shops influences which products consumers choose to buy. Evidence shows that when products are placed in convenient and eye-catching locations, such as at shop entrances, checkouts or aisle ends, sales of these products increase.

Promotions for unhealthy food and drinks encourage shoppers to buy more and consume excess sugar and calories. Latest figures reveal that more than one in three children has a weight classified as overweight or obese by the time they leave primary school aged 11, which increases their risk of developing conditions such as Type 2 diabetes, cancer, heart and liver disease in later life. What’s more, children aged four to ten are eating twice as much free sugar as the recommended daily limit – a key driver behind these rising levels of childhood obesity as well as tooth decay.

What action is being taken to tackle this issue?

The Government published the updated chapter of the Childhood Obesity Plan in June 2018, which included a range of positive changes to the food environment to help support healthier choices and more active lifestyles. However, the plan includes a range of consultations which are currently ongoing, with energy drinks and mandatory calorie labelling in the out of home sector due to close in the next coming weeks.

The Department for Health and Social Care are expected to launch a consultation on banning the placement of less healthy food and drink products in strategic areas in the retail environment any day now.  Given that there is a large body of evidence to suggest this can influence increased sales and consumption of products, and that this survey illustrates many of these products are typically less healthy options, we support the Obesity Health Alliance’s call to the Government to restrict the placement of unhealthy food and drinks in high profile locations in supermarkets to help families make healthier choices when shopping.

We look forward to responding to the Government’s consultation on this.


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